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Will you really accelerate progress with your gender agenda by changing the name of your women’s network?

31 March, 2017
Fleur Bothwick

It seems extraordinary to me that it’s quite recently that I am hearing D&I conversations about the need to engage men as gender champions in our push for gender equality.  Almost as though to date we have only worked with women on this agenda and that now this could be the silver bullet for success.  That said, I admit that far too often I have attended events on this topic that feel like we are just preaching to the converted.  I remember some years back when the founder of the 30% Club, Helena Morrissey raised this as an issue at the launch of the first Womens Business Council report at the Stock Exchange.  The great success of the 30% club is largely due to the fact that Helena’s key objective was to engage with CEOs and CFOs – many who are male.

One trend that seems to be developing, certainly in the UK, is that women’s networks have started to change their brand/name to attract more male members.  I was told recently that over 50% of networks have followed this route with more discussing their options.  I’m not though convinced that this is the way forward or that there will be sufficient return on investment (ROI) for such an approach.  Of course, it depends on the objectives of your network, but in designing a programme to appeal to both men and women you could be losing the benefits which the network was originally set up for – e.g. giving your female talent a forum to network across the business with other women, providing female role models and supporting women with their personal development.

I totally agree that men are an important part of the conversation, in fact, our Global Chairman of EY, Mark Weinberger, shared five lessons of our gender gap journey at the end of last year and lesson four was all about the focus on men – ‘a recognition that closing the gender gap doesn’t mean focusing exclusively on women and that when we broaden the conversation to include both women and men, it improves opportunities for everyone’.  There is also good McKinsey research that shows that men are not against gender equality.  It’s just that many really don’t understand what the challenges to equity are.

My top three ways to make sure that men are fully engaged would be to:

  • Get them sponsoring (and I mean sponsoring, not mentoring) high potential females;
  • Encourage men to take their full paternity and parental leave
  • Facilitate dialogue between men and women. 

For example, one of my Regional Managing Partners has announced that he would like to meet any of our high potential women who are leaving us to better understand their experience at EY and their motivation for going.

In 2014, to mark International Womens Day, EY published our male leaders ten top tips for progressing the gender agenda, they were:

  1. Engage at all levels of your talent pipeline — support informal mentoring, reverse mentoring and formal sponsorship.
  2. Set targets — know what you are trying to achieve.
  3. Establish accountability for progress.
  4. When recruiting, insist that all short lists are gender diverse and, if they are not, ask why?
  5. Promote flexible working on a non-gender basis and set the tone from the top.
  6. Be bold — provide stretch assignments, question the “rules,” challenge mind-set and counter assumptions.
  7. Be innovative with flexible non-traditional career paths.
  8. Make sure that there are opportunities for our people to re-enter the workforce at all levels.
  9. Make sure that D&I doesn’t slip off the agenda when you are pushing for growth and high performance.
  10. Engage with your clients on this topic to share what you are doing

What would your top ten tips be?